Over the last year, the San Francisco Bay Area and Arizona teams have supported their clients in their return to office (RTO) efforts. These regions are vastly different by nature but the challenges and successes that followed returning to the office were universal. This case study is a review of how a major client worked through their method for employees’ return to office experience, and it provides observations on the challenges and lessons learned through the process from two perspectives.

For both Arizona and San Francisco, the pandemic created a need to make new decisions about the workplace environment and provided an opportunity to restack their teams in the Phoenix metropolitan and San Francisco Bay areas. Ultimately, all employees would not be returning to their previous workstations and in many cases, not returning to the same building.

The greatest challenge was to complete a high number of moves without the employees onsite for such a long period of time. This left room for error because employees were unable to verify their items or bring issues to the team’s attention straight away. For some employees, they arrived at their new desk more than a year after the move happened. Fortunately, our team was able to provide support throughout their transition back to the office to resolve any issues.

Throughout RTO, many employees expressed frustration with the changes they were coming back to such as new workstations, neighborhood seating and a new building. For some, it appeared to be too much change too quickly. This reinforces the importance and overall benefit of incorporating change management.

Although RTO was overall successful in both regions, it was not without its lessons learned. The business made the decision to shift thousands of employees while they worked from home.

Lessons Learned

  • Keeping track of data was essential. In the beginning of the RTO efforts in Arizona, inaccurate and poor quality data was provided. This therefore required the team to implement a contingency plan because they knew all the data could not be verified prior to the return to the office date. Fortunately, in the Bay Area, this was anticipated following the lesson learned from the Arizona team and resulted in validation of packed boxes and workstations across buildings prior to employees returning.

 

  • Teamwork made the process a success in both regions. In Arizona, relationships with the move vendor, IT team, and the client’s project managers were established well before the pandemic, because of the volume of projects completed prior to March 2020. This meant trust was built ahead of RTO which allowed these various groups to work together efficiently. In San Francisco, although the individual teams did not work together for long, there was a quick camaraderie formed in the wake of the pandemic and all involved truly had each other’s health and safety in mind throughout the process.

Take Aways

  • Data Quality: We found having good quality data at all times is a critical factor not only in undertaking this type of endeavour but also in promoting a positive end-user experience.
  • Automation: The client could benefit from an automated system that keeps track of key data points for the employees that is easily updatable.
  • Relationships: Building relationships with the client and support team is very valuable. When problems arise, it makes solving the problems much easier and more efficient.
  • Communications: Implementing a communications program would have alleviated some of the tension. However, this was not at the forefront of decision makers’ minds when they had no idea of the true magnitude of the pandemic and what it would bring.

It makes sense that the leaders of these regions took the opportunity to realign their departmental structure without any disruption to business. As employees began flooding back to buildings, it was the thoughtful preparations and support from the entire project team that made RTO an overall success.

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